It’s fitting that Andrew Peterson’s latest, The Burning Edge of Dawn, is being released just as browning leaves lose their grip and fall through a gray sky to a chilling earth. If ever there was an album to get you through a cold winter and keep you focused on the promise of spring, this is it.
Don’t take that to mean that these are songs of trite encouragement. They are profoundly personal, sometimes despairing, and when you hear them you’ll want to nod your head in agreement and then go give AP a hug. They are psalms, really, written in the fear and loneliness of the cave but ever mindful of the Maker of both the cave and the light that pierces it.
Peterson’s albums continue to exist as masterclasses on songwriting, and there is in the critic a natural urge to dissect them and find the smallest brilliant detail like you’re panning for gold in the water trough behind the children’s museum. Oh, but there is gold to be found here! A descending piano line on “The Dark before the Dawn” hints at the brilliant backward phrasing to come (“the storm before the calm”). Conventional song structure is largely ignored, as not a single song follows the standard and predictable arrangement of verses and choruses and a bridge with a key change.
There are also plenty of Peterson’s trademark references to prior work, with mentions of Light for the Lost Boy, fields of green and gold, the “theme of my song,” and even a nod to Rich Mullins’ “The Color Green.” And speaking of Mullins, there’s an enchanting hammered dulcimer on “We Will Survive.”
And then there are lines that make anyone who’s ever put words to paper raise their hands in surrender because once again, in so few words, Peterson has gotten it just right. How does one capture the scriptural truth that trials produce perseverance and maturity? How does one convey the mystery of God’s use of suffering in our lives? Here’s how: “It’s only when the straight line breaks and heals a little crooked that you ever see the grace.” Or consider “Be Kind to Yourself,” a song, written for Peterson’s daughter, that supplants so many songs of similar theme with its wisdom, expressed in a paired triad: “How does it end if the war that you’re in is just you against you against you? You’ve gotta learn to love, learn to love, learn to love your enemies, too.”
Thoughtful sequencing lets the rain (an extended metaphor throughout the album) that symbolizes despair as one song closes become the life-giving nourishment that lets a flower push through the snow as the next song opens. The same rain is heard in the piano on “The Sower’s Song,” another epic AP album closer a la “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone?” Two minutes in, a full stop feels like the turning of the penultimate page of a book. A few more minutes later, an abrupt end is the clapping of the cover when the book is closed.
Yes, there is gold to spare, but in the dissecting a truth emerges: this is an album meant to be felt above all else. There is so much honesty, so much longing, and these are songs for the heart before the head. For an album with no pre-defined theme, the songs chart quite a river. It is sometimes raging and sometimes tranquil. There are moments when the destination cannot be seen, and we grasp for even a tenuous mooring. Ultimately, we arrive, and we see the Sower, and we understand.
The Burning Edge of Dawn is an album about a spring made more joyful because of a long, hard winter. It is plaintive and painful and hopeful and joyful, and it’s a gift for the pilgrim as the air grows cold.
[The Burning Edge of Dawn is available in the Rabbit Room store.]
Jen Rose Yokel
Beautiful Mark! An excellent tribute to this album. I like it when you write about music. 🙂
My word. Absolutely wonderful. Time for another listen…….
Wow. An album review that actually does justice to the music. Well done, sir. Makes me want to listen to “Burning.,.” again.
Jody Lee Collins
Sorry, I don’t have a Login or acct with The Rabbit Room….just a reader. Perhaps offer a ‘non-member’ way to order???
I’ll check over at Amazon. Thanks for this, tho’.
Here in Australia, this album has arrived in early spring. After a long, cold and hard winter it’s a great time to be listening to these themes too I can tell you!
What a perfect summary, Mark. Exactly right. I shivered in delight reading this.
Nicely put. 🙂
Thanks for the review, Mark! I must say that the song that has been ringing in my head the most is Power of a Great Affection … just beautiful!
Excellent review. Andrew’s words always have that amazing power to get in deep and stir my spirit. They always hit home in ways personal and never fail to bring tears to my eyes. Love the reality of the struggle and yet the firm hope we have in Jesus.
As was the case with “Light For The Lost Boy”, I cannot say enough good things about “The Burning Edge of Dawn”.
Mark, you nailed it. Beautiful writing about a freaking amazing album (you may have said that with more eloquence). I didn’t know how he could top Light for the Lost Boy, but he didn’t; he staked out a different field and raised a new ceiling there instead. Even so, the one builds on the other.
I could talk for way too long about this record but I think I’ll just go play it again instead.
This makes me want to listen to the album again. Well put and a beautiful review of a masterful album!
This album is a mercy. During a season when I am empty, AP again speaks words my heart has forgotten. I’ve lost the light for a while, and these songs have been sitting with me in the dark all week. They remind me that morning is coming, even if the sunrise is far off, and every listen has something new to say.
So many of Andrew’s albums have been like this- coming at just the right season to speak life and light into a place in my life that needs illumination. It’s a beautiful gift, and I don’t have the words to fully express my gratitude.
I have been listening to it on repeat for days. LOVE LOVE LOVE!
If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.